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|9 января 2013 года.
Markov stirs controversy; Habs defenceman laces up one more time for KHL team before heading back to Montreal // The Gazette
It was just after 2 p.m. Tuesday in Nizhni Novgorod, Russia, three hours before puck drop, when Andrei Markov popped up in the iPhone as his Vityaz Chekhov squad prepared for that evening's Kontinental Hockey League road game against Torpedo.
Monday, vague word had come from Russia that Markov would see action Tuesday, his second KHL game since the NHL and NHLPA reached a tentative agreement in the wee hours Sunday to end a 113-day lockout.
Reports later Monday were that Markov would return to Montreal on Thursday, a couple days before the Cana-diens are expected to open training camp.
So a message to him pregame Tuesday asked for confirmation of that, with Vityaz scheduled to play its third and final game of a road trip Thursday back in Moscow.
"I don't know yet," Markov replied about his return. "I'm still waiting for any information from the team."
He took my follow-up call, not overwhelmingly happy with the controversy - the first of the Canadiens season! - that his decision to play Tuesday in Russia had stirred among many Montreal fans and a handful in the media.
Markov had terse "next question" replies to queries asking him to confirm his Tuesday game participation or his Thursday return to Montreal.
"I have no information (about the end of the lockout)," Markov said. "I don't want to talk about it."
But gently pressed, the 34-year-old defenceman would indeed talk about it.
"I'm waiting for information from the team, from the league. From any team, from any league. I'm still waiting, that's it," he began.
"Nobody has officially announced the lockout is over," he added, and he was 100 per cent accurate on that score.
The NHL's board of governors meets Wednesday afternoon to ratify what still remains a tentative agreement, and the players must approve the deal in an online vote for it to become official.
As of faceoff Tuesday at 5 p.m. Markov's time, the lockout was not formally over.
"I signed a contract here (with Vityaz) during the lockout," he said. "Right now, I'm doing what, in my opinion, is the right thing. I'm still here.
"I still belong to (Vityaz) but I also belong to Montreal. As soon as they (meaning the Canadiens or NHLPA) call me to let me know, or the league announces the lockout is over, I'm going to pack my bags and fly back to Montreal."
(Following Tuesday's 3-1 Vityaz win, in which Markov played a fully healthy 18: 19, he text-messaged again, confirming he'd be on a Thursday flight back to Montreal.)
"I respect both organizations," he said of the Cana-diens and Vityaz. "I think I'm doing the right thing. I'm going to be fair as a sportsman, as an athlete and as a normal person, to both teams."
We had spoken on Sunday, minutes after Vityaz had left the ice in Yaroslavl after a 2-1 loss to Lokomotiv, about the tentative agreement that had ended the lockout shortly before the KHL faceoff. At that point, Markov had heard Russian media-reported rumours about the deal, but nothing from North America.
On Tuesday, with no travel orders yet coming from this side of the pond, he chose to respect his contract with Vityaz for one more game, probably knowing the overreaction it would provoke here.
"I'm not a boy who's 16 years old," he said. "I'm a big man and I make my decisions. (Playing) is my decision."
Markov said he had spoken to his Toronto-based agent, Don Meehan, "who told me, 'Don't practise, don't even think about the (KHL) game," he said. "But like I said, I'm a big man and I'm responsible for my decisions.
"I don't want to talk about bad things."
When I asked to talk about a good thing - his 20 KHL games that helped him rebuild his game conditioning and knowledge in his own mind, and those of others, that he remains a gifted major-league defenceman - he replied, "Let's talk about that when I come back to Montreal. Right now, I have to prepare for my game."
The dogpile on Markov for deciding to play a final game in Russia was a ridiculous as it was predictable, the doomsayers predicting disaster with Habs training camp looming.
The twice ACL-rebuilt, two-time NHL all star worked furiously through the summer to complete his rehabilitation, training with certified athletic therapist Scott Livingston, specialists and Olympic athletes.
No one except Markov himself and those working with him know how hard he has rehabbed - not once, but twice.
"Back-end rehab," is how Livingston has described last summer's tortuous program, Markov's hip and back cleaned up to realign his body and maximize the power in his right knee. That joint is no longer an issue, period, though the defence-man's critics almost hope it will explode.
(These critics were fine with his 20 KHL games played during the lockout, but curiously had enormous problems with Tuesday's 21st, played before the CBA was even made official.)
Having played just 13 NHL games at the end of last season, Markov chose competitive hockey over scrimmaging as a way to properly test and build his knee during the lockout. The Canadiens agreed with the decision.
The KHL experience was a glowing success, apart from the seven games he missed after breaking two ribs in an awkward collision with the boards during a game on Oct. 26.
Those who question his loyalty to the Canadiens simply don't get it; Markov twice has passed on the lucrative unrestricted free agency route to remain in Montreal, admittedly for rich contracts.
Those who speak of a glass knee don't see his two destroyed ACLs for what they were: freak, coincidental accidents in a violently physical sport.
That Markov isn't a charismatic Russian of pithy quote cut from the fabric of, say, Alex Kovalev doesn't endear him to many fans. He is simply a brilliant defenceman and a largely private man who would prefer that the spotlight find another locker.
But should Markov have the kind of season the Cana-diens hope he enjoys, this week returning healthy from Russia, that hot beam will find him early and often.
As it already has.